How many of you have been following the endless spate of chaotic recent events? You know: impeachment hearings, presidential debates, the slavering of partisan backtalk, and the random conspiracy theories that pepper the stew of modern social and political culture. We can tune into the tabloids every night (some might even call them by the outdated soap opera slur “stories“). There is plenty of scandal reported from many numerous angles and sides that can keep anyone of whichever prejudices they share watching into the wee hours, waiting for some smarmy talk show host to sum things up the way they want you to see them.
I have repeatedly compared political talk shows–both right wing radio and the variety of persuasions that pop up all over TV to sports talk programs. Regardless of the declaration that the media has a ‘left wing bias,’ it seems that the replacement of the news with entertainment/opinion shows also leans heavily to the right. I have a challenge for you: name three hard right wing opinion hosts on TV. Pretty easy to do, isn’t it? Now go for three left wing hosts: Rachel Maddow and . . . uh . . .–sure, we can proclaim some news anchor politically biased and no doubt they probably are. But they come across mostly fair, giving competent people from opposing sides the opportunity to speak. And while they might argue from time to time, it is very rare that they shout someone down completely the way in that Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh do. This is why political talk shows are just like sports talk. A sneering rant, followed by the host calling the listener ‘a moron,’ then hanging up on them, saying they are subsequently cowards for not responding to the sting of insults that follow. This is what right wing talk shows are–shock jocks provoking people and then cutting them off. Left wing talk simply isn’t as exciting. It feels like less is at stake. And for all the able Bill Maher’s there are (and there really is only one Bill Maher), the rest of them come across like the sniping whine fest that was the failed Air America radio: shrill, pretentious ideologue’s just not as good at dooming an opponent as the greedy, selfish, sociopaths and bigots on the other side.
But back to sports!–er, I mean politics. I am absolutely exhausted. Now sure–yes yes yes! I am watching a good bulk of the impeachment hearings. My viewing switches around the stations, from CNN and MSNBC to FOX for a variety of the mainstream perspectives, their biases expressed solely with inserts listed across the bottom of the screen and the news scroll selected to distract viewers from whatever is being said. Then it is onto the blank unanimity of C-SPAN (this when I am tired of all the subtle propaganda), and then across the dial to stations like NEWSMAX TV, featuring hosts talking over and condemning the ongoing testimony without bothering to listen, to the nervous religious news networks threatening apocalyptic warnings if this “farce” continues. And then I read the online bickering, the ignorance of layperson partisan disagreement expressed as personal attacks. Everyone has seemingly already made up their minds without hearing what the witnesses are saying. And to be fair, most of the Republicans trying to discount the witnesses do not even bother asking questions, but give angry, sarcastic speeches, often mostly unrelated to the testimony. On the other side, several of the Democrats are almost giddy, trying to lead the witnesses (most of them much smarter than the Congresspeople) into stating what they so desperately want them to say, and which they will later declare stated, whether true or not, on one of the evening talk shows they book themselves on.
The whole impeachment hearing, while not actually a sham, dealing with some issues that really do need to be addressed, it does not change that fact that this is a show, an occasionally very entertaining circus where people are propped up and forced to say things they are not comfortable with, or expect to be entirely misconstrued, while the chortling Congress laughs at one another playing cowboy and Indian gotcha games.
Turning to the Presidential campaign, here is another tabloid scandal rag, the candidates on deck each trying to one up each other, whether morally, intellectually, or barely trying to reach the people, stating that they truly care about them. I suspect than some of them actually do, but the show is so suspicious, the whole game of politics so utterly debased, that it isn’t even that we don’t trust these people; it is that we no longer care.
Several months ago I enthusiastically covered the Democratic debates, interested in hearing the words of a person who might actually become the next President of the United States (things being what they are Donald Trump could roll onto a crushing victory or he might be slammed with a humiliating defeat; he may declare martial law and shut down the elections, call the results “fake news” and create a true national crisis that might end with outright Civil War, or maybe he’ll just quit, stating that he “achieved all the great things I wanted to,” and then disappear into endless lawsuits and criminal cases until the legal system is so burned out that it, too, collapses from the weight.) And so I watched and reviewed everything these people had to say, evaluating the strong points and weaknesses like any other political commentator trying to get their voices heard. I attempted to be as non-partisan as possible, choosing no particular side regardless of whether I’ve already made up my mind who I plan to vote for (and I am a registered Independent, ineligible to vote in a primary, which makes the endless Democratic and Republican e-mails I get begging me for money rather curious).
But then I couldn’t take it any more, couldn’t be bothered. The sheer volume of new tabloid political news swirling out every day is overwhelming. You can even see this in the faces of the most blindly partisan among us. We have those dark rings under our eyes. Most of us have a low cough, a sense of wholesale weariness sagging our flesh and making us even more irritable than we already are. And as the months grow colder here in the north, and we shuffle more rapidly through the streets, not even bothering to look at each other (other than me, I guess, marking those facial descriptions), you can tell that people have simply stopped caring. “Whatever,” so many people aloofly seem to be saying. Or, darker, “all of us are doomed anyway.”
Perhaps this is all the intention, complete political exhaustion. I would like to offer a quote from a book that I recently promoted here (and which I will do again, right now: the first book of Richard J. Evans’ marvelous trilogy on the development, rise, and subsequent fall of the Nazi empire in Germany, The Coming of the Third Reich: https://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?isbn=9780143034698&n=100121503&cm_sp=mbc-_-ISBN-_-used). This refers to the functioning of the partisan press throughout Germany in the 1920s, before the ascension of Hitler. And please do not mistake my intention here to simply write off Donald Trump and his ilk as just like the Nazis, or all the Democrats as fanatical Communists. The world has changed significantly. When people say “if we don’t learn from history we are destined to repeat it,” of course they do not mean in exactly the same way or even with the same intentions. No, only that similar behavior is bound to lead to similar results. Here (pg. 114):
“Scandal-sheets undermined the Republic with their sensational exposure of real or imagined financial wrongdoings on the part of pro-Republic politicians; illustrations could convey the contrast with Imperial days. The massive publicity the popular press gave to murder trials and police investigations created an impression of a society drowning in a wave of violent crime. Out in the provinces, ostensibly unpolitical local papers, often fed by right-wing press agencies, had a similar, if more muted effect. . . . press empire(s) . . . harping on the inequities of the Republic was another factor in weakening the Weimar’s (the government of Germany prior to and during the rise of the Nazi Party) legitimacy and convincing people that something else was needed in its stead.”
There are a limited number of changes–all of them dealing with more modern issues, although many of them reflections of the same problems–we would need to make to have this analysis apply to anywhere in the world today. The burning out of our political ideas and the destruction of our interest in the fate of the world, of our nations, of the people down the street or even next door to us, is a dire warning for the fate of humanity. If we claim to no longer need all the “crooks in Washington,” the fact that we elected them without understanding a a word they have to say, and without following the underlying drama playing out underneath all the bombast and nonsense, then we really don’t deserve whatever we call ‘freedom,’ do we?